‘500 Days of Summer’ presents us with the effects of male gaze on the man. Often in media we discuss the effects of this phenomenon on the female. Terminology such as the ‘inner camera’ have been popularized which describe the feeling that women always have an imagined spectator they perpetually perform for, even in the quiet of their bedroom. It is believed it stems from how women are portrayed in film to be either plot development for the sensitive male protagonist or overtly sexualised such as Gal Gadot in the first Wonder Woman film in 2017.
However, these portrayals of women who constantly subordinate acts upon men also – this is what we are presented with in ‘500 Days of Summer’. Tom, the leading role, was depicted by Neustadter and Weber to have grown up ‘believing he’d never truly be happy until the day he met ‘the one’, this belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British music and a total misreading of the movie ‘The Graduate’.’ Within the first scene we are already warned of ‘misreading’, perhaps the screenwriters’ advice to the viewers to not be lured into Tom’s misguided lense. He has been poisoned with the idea of ‘The One’, something which plagues him throughout the movie.
The one whom he bestows this expectancy upon is ‘Summer’, his quirky co-worker. She grew up with a distaste of love due to the ‘disintegration of her parents’ marriage’ and goes from unserious relationship to unserious relationship. Despite her disclaiming this to Tom he did not listen, and a realistic love story is presented, one which subverts the traditional narrative: love won’t fix you.
The artificiality of Tom’s perspective unveils further in the IKEA scene. They wander around the store and pretend to be a married couple as they go through the little kitchen and bedroom set ups. Though ostensibly everything is where it should be, none of it works; when Summer turns the tap no water comes out, when she opens the oven, no food is cooked. Just like where the phenomenon originates from it is a movie set with open walls and no roof – no real foundation. Additionally, it presents the protagonists male fantasy that she will fit into the role of the submissive wife who makes him dinner and does the dishes.
Ironically, it could be argued that the fact Summer does not quite slot into his fantasy is what allures him further. The trope of ‘Manic Pixie Dreamgirl’ reveals itself here. The term was coined in 2007 by the film critic Nathan Rabin when he noticed that a lot of women in cinema were created as one dimensional to appeal to males of softer sensibility. They are typically ‘quirky’ and unlike other girls; they listen to the same obscure music as their love interest and are effervescently spontaneous.
From his perspective she is being the girls in the movies he watched growing up – a wild spirit tamed after falling in love. However, there is a scene where the screenwriters explore Tom’s expectations vs his reality. Blatantly, we are presented with the unreliability of the protagonist’s narration and how throughout the pair’s ‘love story’ he had viewed her through rose coloured glasses fitting into a romantic mould which would lead to the couple’s decay.
The ending of the movie is somewhat layered. Tom and Summer are sat on a bench where he once took her on a date, and she has gotten married to another man. Some may be confused by this – Tom certainly was articulating his frustration with ‘you never wanted to be anyone’s girlfriend, and now you’re someone’s wife’. There exists entitlement here which likely comes his ‘early exposure to sad British pop music’. Understandably it hurts when someone you wanted to be with ends up with someone else; the movie is very realistic in its portrayal of characters. Still, it’s hard to ignore the influence of a world which rears men to believe there is an eccentric (but hot) woman available at the click of their fingers.
In the last scene, he goes to a job interview for his dream career and sees a beautiful woman applying for the same position. They exchange dialogue as they wait to be called in and talk about their shared favourite spot in the city. She asks ‘have I seen you before’ he replies ‘I don’t think so’ she retorts ‘must not have been looking’ – peradventure a wink from the scriptwriters about Tom’s tunnel vision and love blindness. He walks off and the narrator dubs that ‘Tom had learnt there’s no such thing as fate’, for a second we believe he has learnt his lesson and then he turns around to ask her out for coffee. Her name is ‘Autumn’.
The seasonal name is ironic within the context of ‘Summer’ suggesting a repeated story and that Tom will forever be a victim of the male gaze.
Article by Young Reporter Lucy
First published in Grimsby Telegraph Jan 2022